Sierra Chamber Society Program Notes (Updated 08/05/2006)

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)


          [Bullet6] Notturno for Piano, Violin and Cello in E Flat Major D.897, Op.148 (1827?)

[Bullet6] Quartettsatz in C Minor, D.703, (1820) for 2 violins, viola, and cello

[Bullet6] String Quintet in C Major for 2 violins, viola, 2 cellos, D.956, Op.163 (1828)

[Bullet6] String Quartet in D Minor, D. 810 "Death and the Maiden" (1824)

[Bullet6] Trio No. 1 in B Major for Piano, Violin and Cello, Opus 99 (1827)

[Bullet6] Quintet for Piano and Strings in A Major Op.114 D. 667 "Trout" (1819)




Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

String Quintet in C Major for 2 violins, viola, 2 cellos, D.956, Op.163 (1828)

schb3.jpg (17393 bytes)"The product of my genius and my misery, and that which I have written in my greatest distress, is that which the world seems to like best."

Franz Schubert

Widely regarded as a masterpiece; both among Schubert’s many compositions, as well as in the entire chamber music repertory, the C major "Two Cello Quintet" was composed in what were to be the last remaining months of his short life. The work was completed only a few weeks before his death on the afternoon of Nov. 19, 1828. However it was not until twenty two years later, November 17, 1850 that the work received its premiere performance. Another three years were to elapse before the work was published.

It is often remarked that Schubert’s choice of instruments for the quintet is unusual since he did not follow the instrumentation used by Mozart and Beethoven in their string quintets. Whereas the aforementioned masters called for two violas in their quintets, Schubert chose to double the cellos. However, this ensemble is by no means unusual. Luigi Boccherini composed no less than 113 string quintets using this instrumentation. It is not known whether any of these works were known to Schubert, although Boccherini’s music was published in Vienna by Artaria, publishers of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. But it hardly matters. For all the quintet music produced by Boccherini, the entire output is only remembered for that famous little minuet tortured by countless string players.

The length and breath of the Cello Quintet are of symphonic proportions. The first movement alone is almost as long as many an entire early classical symphony, and longer than the first movement of any of Beethoven’s nine (with the possible exception of any one conducted by the late Otto Klemperer). Particularly noteworthy in the dramatic and expansive first movement are the duet passages for the two cellos. In his Guide to Chamber Music, Melvin Berger informs us that the violinist Joseph Saunders had the second theme of this movement carved on his tombstone. Many lovers of this quintet feel that the second movement Adagio is the high point of the work. It is said that it was pianist Artur Rubenstein’s wish to have this movement played at his funeral. (This is not surprising, since no pianist would want to have ANOTHER pianist play at his funeral and be able to leave afterward.) For intensity, passion and wide mood swings combined with rhythmic drive, one can only find similar inspiration in some symphonic movements by Mahler. The third movement Scherzo opens in triple meter, with melodic figures reminiscent of horn calls. This exuberant music continues until the Trio, which brings another mood swing to a brooding elegiac interlude, as if the composer is suddenly reminded of his own ominous fate amid the grand noise of life. There is then a return to the lively music that opened the movement. The final movement seems to depart from the grand gestures of the previous movements. Perhaps it is the tempo, which seems a bit relaxed for all that has preceeded it. It does seem to have kinship with the dance-like movements of Schubert’s symphonic masterwork the 9th Symphony in C major The Great, also composed in the last year of his life.

1996-97 Season, Program II, Sunday December 15, 1996

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Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

String Quartet in D Minor, D. 810 "Death and the Maiden" (1824)

schubertomb.jpg (15528 bytes)This Quartet which now delights the whole world and is among the most superb creations in the medium at first did not receive by any means unanimous enthusiasm. The first violinist Schuppanzigh (Ignaz Schuppanzigh - Beethoven’s "Milord Falstaff", first violinist of the famed Schuppanzigh Quartet which premiered many of Beethoven’s Quartets), who was not up to such a task on account of his advanced age, said to the composer after the play through, ‘Brother, this is nothing at all, let well alone: stick to your Lieder’ - at which Schubert quietly gathered up the parts and locked them up in his desk forever.

Such is the tale told by one Franz Lachner (1803-1890), composer and conductor, regarding a performance of the D Minor Quartet in his home in February of 1826. This account of the event was published in the Vienna "Presse" in 1881, in an article in which Lachner recounted his memories of Beethoven and Schubert.

The evocative power of the phrase "Death and the Maiden" resonates deeply, from medieval woodcuts to contemporary cinema; and such is the power of this image that commentary on this Quartet is likely as not to be full of blather. The title comes from the fact that the melody used as the theme for the set of variations which constitute the Quartet’s Second Movement is taken from Schubert’s song Der Tod and Das Madchen (Death and the Maiden) where it appears in the piano introduction representing the approach of Death. It seems that this choice of material from the Quartet was perhaps prompted by a request by friends who loved the melody - rather than Schubert’s musings on mortality. (Such was also the genesis of the Trout Quintet, not Schubert’s interest in ichthyology).

The work is a powerful one, all of the four movements being in the minor mode, from the opening descending motif with insistent triplet figures in many guises that proceed throughout the movement propelling it forward. The second movement, as previously stated, is a theme; a melody from the song Death and the Maiden with five variations based upon it. The third movement juxtaposes a fiercely insistent syncopated rhythmic section (somewhat reminiscent of the motif Wagner would use years later to portray the enslaved Nibelungs hammering away in the mines in his opera Das Rheingold) with a warm long-lined melody as the trio. The final movement (Presto) is a frenetic tarantella, a fast Neapolitan dance in 6/8 time. According to legend, the dance was supposed to cure a person of the bite of the tarantula. A more prosaic explanation of the dance has it named after the southern Italian city of Taranto.

The work had its first performance, actually an unrehearsed reading, on January 29, 1824, at the home of tenor Joseph Barth, with Karl Hacker and Josef Hauer, violinists, Josef Hacker, violist, and cellist from the court opera, Bauer. Schubert, who usually played viola on such occasions, was otherwise occupied, copying out and making corrections to the parts.

The work was not published until 1831, some years after Schubert’s death. Perhaps, he did put it away in a drawer, after "Milord Falstaff’s" negative comments.

1995-96 Season, Program II, Sunday December 3, 1995

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Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Trio No. 1 in B Major for Piano, Violin and Cello, Opus 99 (1827)

schb11.jpg (13856 bytes)The piano trio emerged in the mid-eighteenth century from the Baroque trio sonata. (Actually, the trio sonata could contain four instruments, as in the example by J.S. Bach for two violins and continuo. The continuo, made up of cello and harpsichord, were considered an inseparable unit- one voice; thus the idea of a "trio" as a three-voiced composition). With the shift of emphasis from the strings to the keyboard began the evolution of the piano trio. Early piano trios were often published with the string parts specified "Ad Libitum" or the cello part not printed at all. Haydn contributed mightily to this genre. Charles Rosen in his book The Classical Style describes the pianoforte of Haydn’s day: "The bass was thin and weak, the sustaining power was poor. The Piano Trio was the solution to all the mechanical difficulties, with the cello reinforcing the bass, and the melodies that most needed singing power given to the violin. The contemporary piano was incapable alone of the powerful effects that Haydn and Mozart needed for their most imaginative works. By the beginning of the 19th century, pianos were being built that were more adequate to the demands made by composers."

The piano trio became an increasingly popular medium. Beethoven’s first published works (Opus 1) were a set of three Piano Trios. With technical improvements to the piano, the violin and especially the cello were liberated from their supporting roles. Beethoven’s Piano Trios set the standard for an ensemble of three equal partners, each contributing their own special qualities to the whole, as well as expanding the musical content to symphonic proportions. In fact, he himself arranged his Second Symphony for piano trio. Schubert’s two trios are the culmination in the development of equality among the three instruments. With greater technical advances, the piano continued to grow in size and sonority to the point where it could easily overwhelm its two partners. The problem for late 19th century and 20th century composers be came literally the opposite of what it had been for the 18th century composer.

In his article on Schubert in the Groves Dictionary, Maurice J.E. Brown writes: "The pianoforte Trio in B flat major nowhere reaches the heights of the G major Quartet, but its humanity, and hence its popular appeal, is greater. The remark that Schubert’s lyrical subjects are unsuitable for development is refuted by the first movement; nothing could be more song-like than the opening theme, and yet it forms the basis of a superbly constructed movement. The instrumentation is admirable, particularly in the controlled use of the pianoforte, which is neither overwhelming nor over-modest in its partnership with the strings. Its soaring flight in the finale is one of the most picturesque touches in Schubert."

The B Flat Major Trio is a large-scale work, longer in duration than Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, yet it has a relaxed conversational pace rather than an epic quality one would expect of a work of its length. Is that "heavenly length"?

And here’s an "analysis" of the work found in Ewen’s Musical Masterworks written by Samuel L. Lacier (who?) which has as its virtue, the quality of saying very little in very few words. "The first movement is full of vigor and life, and the second contains one of Schubert’s most inspired melodies. The Minuet is an attractive movement but does not show the individuality of the Finale, which is a rondo with a vast amount of beautiful musical material and with an astonishing figure in 3/2 time which occurs twice, each a variant of musical material previously presented."

The B flat Trio was never performed publicly nor published during Schubert’s lifetime. A private performance was given in Vienna on January 28, 1827 with the piano part taken by Carl Maria von Bocklet; a pianist, violinist, and friend of the composer, who first brought many of Schuberts compositions to the public notice. The string parts were taken by Ignaz Schuppanzigh (Beethoven’s "Milord Falstaff") violin, and Josef Linke on cello; both members of the Schuppanzigh Quartet -Beethoven’s quartet of choice.

1991-92 Season, Program I, Sunday October 6, 1991

1997-98 Season, Program V, Sunday June 7, 1998

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Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Notturno for Piano, Violin and Cello in E Flat Major D.897, Op.148 (1827?)

schubert.gif (32113 bytes)"He once called on [Benedikt] Randhartinger and asked him for the loan of fifteen florins to pay the rent of his lodgings, in order to avoid being turned out. Randhartinger at once gave him the necessary sum, and they both went to the proprietor and paid the fifteen florins. As they passed the "Graben", the street where the music publisher Diabelli had his shop, Schubert said: "Dear Benedictus, I would repay you at once if these people here could pay me for my songs; they have a great many of my compositions, but every time I ask for money they always say they had too much outlay and too little income from my songs. I called twelve times at Diabelli’s, but I have not yet received one penny; but I shall never give them a song again."

He sold Diabelli the copyright of twelve volumes of his songs for 800 florins; while on one single song, the "Wanderer", Diabelli is said to have made a profit of no less than 36,000 florins."

From The Book of Musical Anecdotes by Norman Lebrecht, The Free Press, 1985

This lovely, though brief, work for Piano Trio was published posthumously by Diabelli and Co. It was probably composed during the last year of Schubert’s life. There is speculation that it was originally intended to serve as the second movement of the B Flat Major Piano Trio (D.899). The second movement of this Trio, Andante, is in the same key as the Notturno.

The title "Notturno" was the publisher’s, not Schubert’s. And for once, we have notes for a short work that will take less time to read, than the time required performing the work, at least I hope so.

1996-97 Season, Program IV, Sunday April 6, 1997

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Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Quartettsatz in C Minor, D.703, (1820) for 2 violins, viola, and cello

schubert2.jpg (14140 bytes)Schubert’s Twelfth string quartet - the Quartettsatz (German for Quartet-Movement) remains, after "Death and the Maiden", the most popular and enduring of his fifteen quartets. As its name suggests, it is not a full blown four movement string quartet, but a single movement that was originally intended as the first movement of a multi-movement work. This is born out by the existence of forty-one measures of a projected second movement, Andante in 3/4 time. Like his most famous "Unfinished" work, the Symphony No. 8, and to a lesser degree the unfinished String Trio in B flat, the Quartettsatz has gained acceptance as a self-contained, aesthetically pleasing work, with, I might add, all of the attendant conjecture, speculation and nonsense as to why the proposed larger work was left incomplete.

The Quartettsatz did mark a departure from his previously written quartets. All of the earlier works were written as "Hausmusik"(music performed in the home by amateur musicians) with Schubert’s brothers Ignaz and Ferdinand on violins, his father playing cello, and Franz himself on viola. Schubert was now clearly writing with professional musicians in mind. Indeed, his next quartet would be dedicated to Ignaz Schuppanzigh (Beethoven’s much maligned "Milord Falstaff", whose Quartet was entrusted with the premiere performances of most of Ludwig van’s own string quartets). Though composed in 1820, the Quartettsatz did not receive its premiere performance until March 1, 1867 in Vienna.

Additional Note: "The term Quartettsatz, pronounced Quartet- ZOTZ, should not be confused with Quartettzets, pronounced Quartet-ZETZ. The latter is a now thankfully obscure term found in certain even more thankfully obscure avant-garde string quartets (by composers of such obscurity that no one even remembers who they were) of the late 1960s. In these works the performers were instructed to strike a blow (zets), with their bow, to other members of the ensemble, at certain points in the score. Unfortunately, second violinist’s often became uncontrollable and disruptive, jeopardizing continuation and completion of the performance, as well as putting those few first violinists who specialized in Avant Garde music on permanent disability. Thus was born the Avant Garde String Trio; out of which arose the Duo for viola and cello, which eventually devolved unto music for unaccompanied cello-the carrier of the biggest stick." Avant Garde String Music:1959-1979 Guido Batticulo

1997-98 Season, Program I, Sunday October 5, 1997

"I want some seafood Momma…"

Thomas "Fats" Waller

"There were Schubert evenings where the wine flowed generously, when the good Vogl sang all those lovely Lieder and poor Franz Schubert had to accompany him endlessly so that his short and fat fingers would hardly obey him any longer. It was even worse for him at our social entertainments, only Würstelbälle (hot dog parties) in those frugal times, but with no lack of charming ladies and girls. Here our ‘Bertl’, as Schubert was familiarly called by his friends, was made to play again and again, his latest waltz until the endless cotillion was finished and the small, corpulent and freely perspiring little man could finally take a rest and eat his modest dinner. Small wonder that sometimes he fled and some ‘Schubertiads’ had to take place without Schubert."

Eduard von Bauernfeld(Austrian Playwright)

Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)

Quintet for Piano and Strings in A Major Op.114 D. 667 "Trout" (1819)

It speaks to the enduring popularity of this piece, in the "oohs" and "ahhs" that rippled through the audience, when it was announced that the "Trout" would be rescheduled to this third program of the season. (I had hoped to get double duty out of the Bass player in programming the Trout with the 5th Brandenburg Concerto.) However, I suspect we could serve up this fish dish once every season and get no complaints.

As can be seen from the above anecdote, I believe Schubert would have had a lot in common with Jazz musicians. Why even one of his nicknames "Schwammel" could be translated as "Chubby" or maybe at a stretch, "Fats".Conversely, can you imagine Stravinsky, Schoenberg, or Boulez playing their works at parties, hot dog or otherwise? His was a Bohemian lifestyle; he was a party boy, and could improvise dance tunes for hours, yet he didn’t even own a piano. He was a prolific composer of songs, and song remained at the core of all his works.

One might say that this beloved work was the souvenir of a "holiday" Schubert undertook with a few of his pals, among them the singer Anton Vogl, a walking tour of Upper Austria in the summer of 1819. During this tour, the guys visited the home of one Sylvester Paumgartner, a friend of the aforementioned Vogl. The wealthy Paumgartner was an amateur cellist, and local music patron. His home was often the scene of musical evenings devoted to song and chamber music. During the visit, Paumgartner asked Schubert to compose a work especially for his chamber music evenings. However, he imposed two conditions on the composer. The first was that the instrumentation should be the same as that used by Johann Nepomuk Hummel in his E flat Piano Quintet; piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass, as that work was a favorite of Sylvester and his friends. The other stipulation was that work should have a movement based on Schubert’s own song of 1817 "Die Forelle" (The Trout). Schubert agreed, and immediately set to work. Astonishingly, he wrote out each of the individual parts without first having written a score. (Shostakovich also possessed this remarkable gift, and was able to notate all the parts of a symphony without first preparing a score). It is said that he improvised the piano part, while the string players followed their parts. Is this a fish story?

He completed the work upon his return to Vienna, and the work was premiered at Paumgartner’s house in the winter of 1819-20.

This is rather a singular work. It is large-scale, lasting just over 38 minutes, yet it is relaxed, and graceful throughout. There is no pomp, bombast or false heroics that might be used to fill out a large five-movement piece. It has been suggested that the Quintet was originally conceived in the usual 4 movements, but the stipulation that it contain the Trout song accounts for its fifth. Its melodies and modulations carry us through without a dry patch. David Ewen describes Schubert’s Quintet as being "Among his most ebullient and light-hearted works; its spontaneity and freshness betray the speed with which it was written. In no other large work did Schubert produce so many ingratiating tunes, all of them carefree, spirited, full of irrepressible gaiety". Yet this is no potpourri of melodies. Robert Schumann wrote of Schubert the composer: "No music except Schubert’s is so psychologically remarkable for the development and association of ideas and the impression of logical transition that it conveys."

The first movement is concerned with melodies, which are presented in more and more remote keys, one of Schubert’s favored compositional devices. The second movement, Andante, which serves as the "slow" movement is made up of three distinct themes, the first tranquil and somewhat florid, the second slightly mournful, and the third with again tranquil but with a marked rhythm. The third movement, Scherzo: Presto, is just that; a quick, energetic scherzo with contrasting trio.The fourth movement is the set of 6 variations on the opening melody of Schubert’s song "Die Forelle" (The Trout). The song, of which there are actually 5 versions, set to the words of Christian F.D. Schubart, tells of a carefree trout swimming in a clear, sparkling stream, who is able to elude the fisherman, that is until the fisherman’s movements muddy the waters. The first three variations are concerned mostly with ornamenting and embellishing the theme, while variation 4 and 5 are more substantial transformations of the theme. Variation 6 returns to the theme with the piano playing the accompanying figure that it plays in the original song. In the finale, Schubert plays around with a tune, of his own making, in the "Hungarian" style. Again, melody reigns.

 1 Liebrecht, Norman The Book of Musical Anecdotes The Free Press. New York. 1985

2000-2001 Season, Program III, Sunday February 11, 2001

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All original text on this page Copyright 1997 by Joseph Way